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Aside from Android, what other mobile OSes have been in your life?

This Friday Debate we discuss what other mobile OSes we have used in the past, or even any mobile OSes we currently use in conjunction with Android.
December 5, 2014
iphone 6 plus vs samsung galaxy note 3 quick look aa (14 of 20)

While those of us at Android Authority absolutely love Android, we recognize the fact that its far from the only mobile OS out there. Furthermore, we understand that much of Android’s success was built by following some of the examples and directions of previous operating systems (and mobile operating systems) that came before it. With that in mind, for this week’s Friday Debate we talk about what mobile OSes we have used in the past — including options that still are around (WP/iOS) and older platforms such as Windows Mobile, Symbian and WebOS.

For multi-platform users out there, what other mobile OSes do you currently use aside from Android and why? For those exclusive to Android, what made you switch and is there anything you miss from previous platforms? If you have never used anything but Android, what made you choose it over the competition?

As is our recent custom, we start out the Friday Debate by hearing from a few members from our community. This week there was only one response, likely due to the fact this is such a ‘big’ topic, especially for those of us that have been using mobile devices for a decade or more:


I’ve used Ubuntu and Windows Phone for a while. Only to test them though, so I can’t say much about them. Ubuntu Touch is still highly unfinished and WP is very functional and fast, plus Nokia has some sexy hardware, but the lack of Gapps doesn’t suit me. Google, just give them at least Youtube!

I used Symbian for years. Who hasn’t used Symbian? Basic operating system with major flaws, like the browser where you often needed more than five (!) taps to get to, but it worked sufficiently well on basic phones without touchscreens. On the other hand, on smartphones, which are media focused and need to be faster, it was mindbogglingly horrible. E7, with its lovely full qwerty keyboard, was the worst smartphone I’ve had so far. As said earlier, the web browser was poor and probably designed by someone who had just learned coding. The whole Os was quite slow, perhaps because of weak hardware, and the design was like stock Android 2.x, but it had widgets and multiple home screens with different wallpapers, that was something! Overall, it was great that Nokia killed Symbian, it just wasn’t a modern mobile Os, but they should’ve tried to make MeeGo better instead of opting for WP.

Another mobile Os I’ve used for years is… iOS! I’ve had an iPad since the first generation. There’s nothing really wrong with iOS, it works and I don’t do anything serious with a tablet. My other family members use it too, so rooting and custom ROMs wouldn’t be an option anyway. Pros it has are updates, simplicity and tablet optimized apps. Cons it has have to do with compatibility with other devices which aren’t from Apple. The file system isn’t open and ITunes is a horrible piece of software. I can’t get rid of all the bloatware, so I have a big folder of apps I’ll never use. Oh and it’s not Android!

For good measure, I’ll add a small praise for Sailfish, which I briefly tried on my Nexus 5. I think it has potential and should be the next S to fight with Windows Phone and maybe even the (in terms of market share) falling iOS.

What Team AA has to say

Now that you’ve had a look at what community member Mastermuffin had to say, it’s time for Team AA to weigh in:

Eric McBride

Ah yes…the HTCDream (aka T-Mobile G1). It was the first smartphone I ever had, and it was horrible. But I saw the potential, and once I discovered the world of XDA, I didn’t look back. 14 Android devices later, it’s safe to say that Android remains hands down my OS of choice. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t others I don’t like.

The company I worked for in 2010 bought me an iPhone 4 that I could use for work and as a personal phone. Despite what many of my friends may think, I think the iPhone is a very solid device. I can honestly say that the thing NEVER crashed, and lag is virtually non-existent on it. I have always told people that Apple having the luxury of internally designing software directly for their hardware is a huge plus, and it’s evident when you use the phone.

Like many people say, the iPhone “just works”. That being said, ZERO lack of customization, small screen sizes (which now is no longer an issue with introduction of the Plus), and that I can’t mode it ( don’t even talk to me about jailbreaking being similar to rooting) make it far too boring for my personal taste.

Now tablets are a different story all together. The Surface Pro tablet was one of the most amazing devices I ever used. The “problem” is that for me it’s more of a laptop than a tablet, as the lack of good applications for it take that tablet feeling away from me. I have 2 laptops, and don’t really need a third. Call me crazy, but I personally want a tablet to be a mixture of PC and a smartphone. That being said, I don’t think it’s being at all used to it’s full potential, and Microsoft does a horrible job of highlighting unique selling points for Windows tablets when marketing them.

When I sold my Transformer Prime for an iPad, I thought I would regret it. I didn’t. The iPad to me remains the best tablet you can have, simply because of the number of optimized tablet apps for it. As a tablet, it’s my personal favorite, as it simply gets the job done and is everything I could ask for in a tablet. Again, I miss not being able to customize with widgets and mod the thing, but it does what it does so well that I can’t complain.

So to sum it up, I prefer Android for phones, the iPad for tablets, but think that Windows tablets still have the potential to become the tablet heavyweight if Microsoft gets their act together. Show me a commercial of a Windows tablet running good apps, then docking with a keyboard getting plugged into a printer to print things out for work, then switching over to desktop mode running the Windows version of Assassins Creed Black Flag, and then see if it doesn’t get more attention.

Jonathan Feist

This is a loaded and potentially very interesting topic, what mobile OSes a user has used can be a lengthy list if you’ve been active for more than five years. Myself, my first cell phone landed in pocket over fifteen years ago, so, let’s skip past all the old brick Nokia devices and that amazing Motorola StarTAC. My first smart phone was the HTCTouch, a Windows Mobile 6.1 device with full touch display.

Windows Mobile 6.1 was a very important operating system for me. I was in college for computer programming when I got the device, being that I was learning the .NET language, I was able to develop programs for my phone. It was an exciting process. My first full fledged mobile app was a Yahtzee knock-off. Looking back, the code was pretty horrible, but hey, it worked. Seeing your own code running on a mobile device is a little bit addicting.

There are a few things about Windows Mobile that I still miss, even compared to the latest and greatest that Android has to offer. Primarily, I miss the predictability of keyboard operations. Not to say that I absolutely despise the whole long press to start a text selection, drag those tiny cursors to highlight your text, then figure out which icon stands for copy and which for paste functionality. Windows Mobile had Ctrl-C and Ctrl-V. Seriously, it wasn’t broken (or was it?) why did Android have to ‘fix’ it?

Had timing been a little bit different, I would not have purchased the HTCTouch. It was only three days after I purchased the WinMo phone that the beta release of Android went live. It was very shortly after that when I began researching the OS from a technical build approach. With my newly found knowledge of the software stack of an OS, Android was the smartest piece of tech I’d ever seen. Not to start anything here, but the locked down, hidden and proprietary nature of iOS scared the crap out of me. It was then, in 2008, that I vowed never to own an Apple product.

Yes, I’ll go on record, I do not like, nor trust Apple software. Sure, there are tons of cool apps and things out there that make the iPhone great. Let me say that again, in my opinion, the only thing good about the early iPhones were the vast amount of apps and peripherals, it was not the phone or iOS that made the iPhone a solid device offering. But I am off topic here.

Things have changed dramatically since then. Android has become my only mobile OS and iOS is not as bad as it once was.

From a user perspective, one of my particular favorite aspects of newer Android versions is how they handle display timings. It’s called Vsync, but we got to know it simply as Project Butter, introduced back with Android Jellybean.

From the software stack perspective, I love that almost every aspect of Android is sandboxed, creating a level of security that goes beyond my understanding. The idea of using Intents throughout the OS is an amazing advancement. Instead of exclusively tying one app to one file type, a file or process simply announces to the system that there is a job to be done and all available apps that can handle that job jump in to help out. It’s a small thing, but let me assure you, it is awesome!

(Sorry to all the devs out there, I’m trying to make this readable, I know my exact word use is way off for proper function.)

In the end, I owe the HTCTouch and Windows Mobile 6.1 for ensnaring me into the mobile industry, but I have only Android to thank for keeping me running today.

Gary Sims

Going back to the late 1990s, the first mobile OS that I ever used was Palm OS. I was the proud owner of a Palm Pilot. At the time I was doing a 90 minute commute everyday (in each direction) to London and the Palm Pilot was really useful. Of course it was limited in what it could do, there was no 3G or 4G LTE back in those days, and the CPU ran at just 16MHz! But it was true mobile computing.

Like Feisty, the next major mobile operating system I used was Windows Mobile 6.1. I also had a HTCdevice and it came with a GPS. For me that was a world changer, but there weren’t any decent offline map applications. So I set about writing an offline map app using data from OpenStreetMap. The mapping data was incomplete for my area, so I started to add to the OpenStreetMap data. The app never got released (see below), but it was fun while it lasted.

Windows Mobile 6.1 was a good OS. The UI wasn’t very mobile friendly and Microsoft was still thinking in terms of desktop Windows, on a mobile device, nothing new there! You had to use a stylus, but having used Palm OS for quite a while, that was quite natural to me. What really, really annoyed me was that when Windows Phone 7 came out it was completely incompatible with Window Mobile 6.1. So all the effort I put into my map app just got flushed down the toilet by Microsoft. At that point I said goodbye to Windows Mobile/Phone and I don’t think I will ever go back.

For me the next step was Android 1.5 Cupcake. The idea of a smartphone running the Linux kernel was just too tempting for me to resist! I have been an Android fan ever since. I briefly flirted with iOS when someone gave me an iPhone 3GS. I liked it and we still have an iPad 2 here in the house. But Apple made a draconian decision back in 2010, with the release of its SDK for iOS 4, that prohibited apps from being written in any other language other than Objective-C, C, C++, or JavaScript. It also banned apps that ran through an “intermediary translation or compatibility layer.” I was using Corona at the time (and still do) and overnight Apple flushed all my apps down the toilet (just like Microsoft did). Eventually Apple changed its mind, but it taught me a valuable lesson, when you buy into a proprietary system you are not the owner and you have not rights. Microsoft proved it, Apple proved it. Android is the only sane choice left.

Matthew Benson

Truth be told, I’ve used all the major mobile OS offerings. Each have their own positives and negatives, so let me address each individually:

iOS: I’ve had just about every iPhone released, though none ever lasted more than a month or two before I sold them. Apple’s mobile OS has a lot going for it in terms of 3rd party developer support. Android still can’t hold a candle to the App Store, in no small part because users simply won’t pay for content like they will for Apple. The iTunes Store also has a fantastic selection of content be it music, movies, TV shows, or podcasts, the latter of which I make frequent use of since I live in Japan and can’t traditionally access everything I’d like to.

In terms of the OS itself, I find iOS to be rather boring. It’s simplistic look can never be fundamentally changed. You have a grid based layout and that’s it. Sure iOS 7 really changed things up, but you just know it’s going to be here for years on end. Likewise the hardware is boring. Whereas Android devices seemingly come out every other week ensuring that at least one will catch your eye sooner or later, there is just no hope when you’re disgusted with the design of the iPhone. Case in point, the 6 and its hideous antenna lines. I still believe that if Apple opened the gates and let other OEMs into its Chocolate Factory hardware production line, the end results would go a long way for everyone involved.

Windows Phone 8: I’ve owned about four Windows Phone 8/8.1 devices and find the OS to be a more entertaining Android alternative than iOS. It’s more visually stimulating with the Live Tiles and ability to resize them. Unfortunately the keyboard is horrendous, at least for me given that I use SwiftKey on Android and need the advanced auto predictive input. It’s almost impossible to type anything in rapid progression because of keyboard errors. To be fair I only used the beta of Windows Phone 8.1 so I can’t comment on the final version.

Likewise the Windows Marketplace is just horrid. I don’t use the billion and one SNS/picture/sharing apps, instead downloading random indy games or things. When I last checked the marketplace just this past summer, it was just as bad as it was last year, as far as my interests went. The best way to describe it would be akin to the first year or two of the Android Market: endless amounts of shovelware games of horrible quality, all of which aren’t even worth the time to install and delete. I thought for sure with a year intern things would have improved.

Android: By no means a perfect OS,  Android offers an endless array of customization, hardware diversification, and innate features. The Easter Egg is a cool feature, the OS naming convention is sweet (literally), there is a constant stream of new devices and innovative decisions (Samsung’s Galaxy Note Edge comes to mind), and the incredible variations of the OS that exist, be it the stock experience or TouchWiz or anything else.

In the distant past I’ve also owned the original Motorola StarTAC (and the model before that even; it wasn’t a clamshell but the name escapes), the HP Jornada, several Sony Clie devices, hordes of Japanese feature phones, a Sharp Zaurus, an Ubuntu device (called the Net Walker, also made by Sharp) and many others. My how things have changed…

Now it’s your turn

You’ve heard what some of our forum members think, and the thoughts of our team as well.Now it’s your turn to voice out your thoughts in the comments below, and vote in our poll while you’re at it!